FROM THE DUGOUT: Allen aiding Pirates after playing days

Published 6:04 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS FRESHMAN PHENOM: Turuner Brown makes a play from shortstop to first base against UNC-Wilmington on Tuesday. His emergence as a freshman has helped fill the void left by Hunter Allen, who is helping him through first-year growing pains.

FRESHMAN PHENOM: Turner Brown makes a play from shortstop to first base against UNC-Wilmington on Tuesday. His emergence as a freshman has helped fill the void left by Hunter Allen, who is helping him through first-year growing pains.

GREENVILLE — Hunter Allen’s playing days are over for East Carolina baseball after finishing his final season of NCAA eligibility in the Pirates’ 2015 campaign, but he is as close to the program now as ever.

Allen served as ECU’s shortstop for most of 2014 and all of 2015 after transferring from Brunswick Community College. He was the team’s leadoff hitter last year and led in hitting with a .349 average and a .408 on-base percentage. He was a plus defender as well, but for all his ability as a college player, professional baseball seemed like a bit of a stretch.

After completing his final season of eligibility, he still had two semesters of classes to finish to graduate from ECU. Allen decided to return to the program in a new role — student coach.

“It’s interesting, it’s a different side of things. Sometimes I still feel like I’m a player,” Allen said. “You have to learn to separate the two but it’s fun to still have connection with the guys that I played with. I think it keeps things light.”

MAKING THE PLAY: Hunter Allen makes a throw from shortstop in a game last season. His days on the diamond may be done, but his contributions as a student coach continue to help the Pirates.

Allen has a respect for coaching, learned through his father and former coach, who is the head coach at Brunswick CC. Allen said playing under his father helped inspire him to stay involved in the game from the dugout.

“It was awesome (playing under my father),” Allen said. “Credit to him because most dads are harder on their kids than anybody else but he did a good job of separating it and treating me like everybody else. I was punished with everybody else so I was held to the same standard as everybody else, not a higher standard, just the same standard.”

Allen’s void at shortstop has been filled by unsuspecting freshman Turner Brown. Allen said he watched Brown play as at Whiteville High School while he attended Brunswick CC nearby. He said it’s been impressive to see the changes Brown has made since his early days in high school.

The similarities between the two are immediately noticeable. Both are switch hitters, contact-oriented with speed and are prideful of their defense. Brown has had his hiccups and growing pains in the field (eight errors and a .918 fielding percentage in 23 games), but has shown flashes of what made him an opening day freshman starter for the Pirates.

Brown has been consistent offensively and holds a .284 average and has the third most RBI on the team (14). He said having Allen on the coaching staff was an unexpected surprise and very beneficial for his freshman season.

“He’s helped me out a whole lot,” Brown said. “I didn’t know he was going to be on the staff before I came in. Whenever I found out, I was thinking ‘that’s going to be really cool’ because any questions I have that I don’t really want to go to the other coaches about, I can just go to him. He’s been there every step of the way. He’s given me a lot of great advice and a lot of wisdom along the way.”

Allen was a captain on ECU’s 2015 regional team and earned Most Outstanding Player for the American Athletic Conference Tournament last May. The soon-to-be graduate said he feels a strong sense of leadership from the elder statesmen of the team. He tries to bring a different element of leadership to the dugout.

STOPPING SHORT: Hunter Allen fields the ball and puts on the brakes to turn and make a play in a game last season.

“I try to just keep guys playing hard and having fun,” Allen said of the most important thing he tries to instill in the team. “Like I tell the guys all the time, the game is hard enough so don’t stress out about it. You’ve got to have fun, enjoy it and just be you. A lot of guys say ‘I’m trying to do this or I’m trying to do that.’

“Don’t try to be anybody different. Just be yourself and play. Coaches recruited you for the player you are. So come in, work every day and try to be that guy. Try to be better.”

Brown vouched for Allen’s ability to keep players calm, saying “he stresses relaxing, taking it all in and not try to rush anything. He’s been really important for me this year.”

Allen will graduate from ECU this May with a degree in recreation and park management, though he said he will try to ride his coaching pedigree as long as he can.

Brown, Allen and the rest of the ECU baseball team will face its most important series to date as Houston comes to Greenville this weekend for a three-game set.